update at the bottom of the post, edits made at 1:53 p.m.
Somehow, through some wrinkle in the space-time continuum, many of my friends have tween or teenagers. Most of them being at least middle class, they play musical instruments.
Some have formed or joined bands.
In addition to learning all the stuff that goes along with being a band, some of them are learning the sad, sexist, body-shaming gender politics of rock and roll.
A friend shared some screenshots of her young teenaged daughter’s facebook wall (with daughter’s permission).
I was saddened by what I saw, but I was also amazed and impressed by what I read. I asked if any of them wanted to write a guest post, but I didn’t get any takers. I did get permission to blog about what happened, as long as I hid all identities and didn’t quote anyone directly.
“Lucy” is lanky – she’s pretty tall and her mom says she averages a size 2. She’s kindof sortof maybe dating this boy. They know each other from school and extracurricular music activities. In the Fall he joined a rock band with some friends.
One of the mean kids posted this image on Lucy’s facebook wall, along with a note that she’d better do a New Year’s cleanse if she didn’t want him to dump her for a thin(ner) girl.
It’s an image makes the rounds a lot and I know very few female musicians (or women, in general) who think it’s cute, although when male musicians are called out on it they invariably fall back on the the “I know one chick who thinks it’s GREAT, so you all should” cliche.
That’s a post for another day…
I had no idea it was showing up on on twitter or fb as a tool of teenage repression. Lucy’s mom indicated that this wasn’t the first time Lucy had seen the image, it was merely the first time she’d been it’s target.
I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t be hurt by this kind of public ridicule and body-shaming. What impressed me was the way Lucy’s friends stepped up and critiqued the hell out of the image and the message, instead of engaging in a flame war with the mean girls, who are apparently experts at wielding “thinspirational” images as weapons.
The primary issues that they called out the image for were:
Depicting males as musicians and girls as groupies.
They discussed at length how the boys in their music classes at school are encouraged to be in bands, but if they express interest they’re discouraged, even by some women they meet in bands who encourage them to be musicians but express ambivalent opinions about band participation.
Depicting male musicians as automatically have a higher status that doesn’t rely on physical appearance, while female musicians are held to different standards.
Lucy decided not to join a band because she hates the way famous female performers (and her female musician friends) are held to such ridiculous physical standards while males are given much more leeway about their appearance. Lucy’s best friend talked about how she sings and plays a number of instruments, but has been told more than once by boys that she should take up the the drums because that would hide her “fat ass.” She’s an extremely slim young woman who is active in several sports.
Fat-shaming the girl on the left.
They called this out, but it didn’t really need any explanation.
Slut-shaming the girl on the right.
They felt sorry for the girl on the right, who they read as seeking an identity based on associations not actual social connections. They also felt sorry for the boy in the picture, because they thought he was dumb to dump the girl who liked him for who he was just to go out with a girl who it’s implied only likes him for the status he confers on her.
I’m impressed that teenagers could offer such sophisticated readings of this image and it’s message(s) in the face of such ugly bullying, but I’m depressed that they need to do so.
I struggled for weeks over whether to include any size information about the girls being bullied. Ultimately, I left “Lucy’s” size to indicate that this kind of body-shaming happens no matter what size the girl is and whether or not she’s happy with her size. I changed the information about her friend to be more vague because her exact height and size were irrelevant to the story. If it matters to you, you’re missing the point altogether.
Original image source: unknown. I’m not linking it to the page it came from in the incident I describe in this post because I want to keep the identifying details to a minimum. I left the original file name, “no fat chicks” because I think it tells it’s own piece of the story.